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Simple Tools for Advanced Renderings with Visualize

CAD Concept Design

Simple Tools for Advanced Renderings with Visualize

Advanced rendering does not require you to be a rendering expert. You may be a CAD enthusiast who has done little to no rendering at all—and that’s okay. Our goal here is to demystify the process and show what is needed to produce a rendering that goes a step beyond simple rendering, like a SOLIDWORKS screenshot or a less than realistic rendering. We will show how anyone can produce an advanced rendering using the simple tools within SOLIDWORKS Visualize, SOLIDWORKS’ premier rendering tool.

SOLIDWORKS Visualize, referred to as the Camera for SOLIDWORKS, runs separately from SOLIDWORKS and can import your 3D models. Once your model is in Visualize, you can add appearances, lighting, additional models and camera effects to develop your rendering.

Creating an advanced rendering requires an understanding of a couple areas. First, you will need to understand how to complement the model with realistic materials, lighting and supplementary models. Second, you will need to know the camera and output options available to publish your advanced and beautiful, renderings. Each of these is discussed below.

Complementing the Model

Depending on how the 3D model was imported to Visualize, it will usually initially include all its applied SOLIDWORKS appearances, the SOLIDWORKS Scene (HDRI, or high dynamic range imaging) and Camera(s). You can choose to keep these the way they are, customize them in place or complement them with new assets. Depending on the model you are working with, it may look great immediately and require little adjustment. However, to create an advanced rendering, some tweaking will usually be required.

Applying Appearances

Adjust Existing Appearances

By clicking on existing appearances within the Appearance Tab, you can access their individual properties and how they overlay their textures onto the parts they are applied to. You can adjust these existing properties to your liking. For instance, if you have parts that imported with a gray plastic appearance, but you want them to be chrome, you can change the appearance type property to metal and adjust the color and roughness as needed. This can be a great time-saving technique for bulk changing appearances that are already applied to parts.

Applying New Appearances

New appearances can be added to the model either by dragging them from the Visualize Library or creating a new appearance from scratch. New appearances can be created by either copying an existing one or by clicking the plus sign at the top of the appearance tab. These appearances would then be dropped onto the model and customized as needed.

Appearance Textures and Mapping Methods

Some appearances in the Visualize Library include embedded textures, which are tiled images responsible for producing realistic material finishes and colors such as molded plastic, brushed metal, speaker mesh or fabric. Websites such as Poliigon.com are a great resource for additional textures that aren’t found in the Visualize Library. For example, textures for a specialized wood grain, concrete or composite weave can be downloaded and added to a Visualize appearance and further customized.

It is important to note that all Visualize appearances you have customized can be saved to the Visualize library for use in other projects. Simply click the icon beside the plus sign used to create a new appearance.

Controlling Lighting

Visualize Library Environments

The included HDRI environments in the Visualize Library are somewhat limited with the initial Visualize installation. This is because HDRI files can be quite large. The first step to accessing new HDRI environments is to activate the Cloud option on the Library tab. This will allow you to double-click and download any of the environments that do not already have a green checkmark beside them. A green checkmark indicates it is downloaded to your local library.

Using Other HDRI Environments

Websites such as PolyHaven.com are great resources for sourcing additional HDRI environments to use for lighting the model in Visualize. You can also compose your own HDRI environments with the proper software.

There are three methods to activate new HDRI’s in Visualize:

  1. Drag the HDRI file from Windows directly onto the Visualize viewport.
  2. Click the plus sign icon at the top of the Environments tab and select the file.
  3. Save the HDRI file into the library directory on your computer so it can be dragged-and-dropped directly from the Visualize Library. By default, this folder location is Documents > SOLIDWORKS Visualize Content > Environments.

Regardless of how you import the HDRI to the Visualize project, they will all have the same options that can be adjusted to your liking. These options include brightness, size, rotation, ground reflections and shadows. These settings are limited, because most of the influence of the environment comes from the HDRI image you have chosen. In Visualize, it is extremely easy to swap out environments and continue to do so until you find the one that works best. 

Including Supplementary Models

Import and Stage Additional Models

If the 3D model you are rendering will interface with other objects in the real world, it may be advantageous to include those other objects in your rendering. Websites such as TurboSquid.com have compiled endless collections of 3D models produced by CAD designers and computer graphics artists that are available for purchase. You can find just about any model you can think of. However, make sure that the file type is compatible with Visualize.

To import an additional model, with a current project open click on File > Import.

Including supplementary models is one of the easiest ways to boost realism. Some examples of supplementary models could be a hospital patient standing in an MRI machine or perhaps a rocky landscape for an offroad vehicle. These types of models can be time consuming or impossible to model in parametric CAD.

Once imported, you can then stage the additional models by relocating them with the Move tool. The transformation settings found within the Model tab can also be used to position the models with assigned values.

Camera and Output Options

The final step in completing the composition of your rendering is to adjust the camera options and placement, then output the rendering.

Camera Settings

Locating the Camera

Visualize uses the same mouse controls as SOLIDWORKS for zooming, panning and rotating the camera. Most of the time, you will be able to get the camera angle you want by only using the mouse controls. In addition to the mouse controls, the Transformation settings for the Camera can be fine-tuned with greater accuracy.

Lens Effects and Depth of Field

The lens option for Perspective’ can make or break the realism in a rendering. This is especially the case if you are superimposing your model onto a photograph with built-in perspective. Increase this setting for a dramatic forced perspective.

Depth of Field is a great setting to enable for adding a realistic blur effect away from a focal point. To use this setting, you select a focal distance and increase the aperture setting for a shallower (increased blur) depth of field.

Post-Processing (Visualize Professional)

Visualize Professional allows for adjusting post-processing options through the Filters tab in the camera settings. These settings allow for fine tuning of the image color, brightness, saturation, and more to further improve the rendering.

The Bloom setting deserves its own mention as it is essential for making light sources glow as they would in real life. The intensity and threshold values can be adjusted so that illuminated lights and screens are more realistic.

Rendering Output

2D Images

You will only be able to output a 2D image with Visualize Standard. However, with Visualize Professional, there is a collection of advanced outputs that go beyond traditional imagery. Renderings are initiated by clicking the Output Tools option on the heads-up menu and selecting Render as the output mode. This will produce a 2D image identical to the rendered preview seen in the viewport.

Advanced Outputs (Visualize Professional)

In addition to rendering 2D Images, Visualize Professional can output animations, panoramic and interactive Images as well as 360° images and videos for VR consumption. Each of these outputs are separately chosen as the output mode and assigned settings before processing the final rendering.


Regardless of the rendering output format, the goal was to achieve an advanced rendering using only a few simple tools. Even if you used Visualize Professional to output a 360° animation, if the basic steps covered throughout this article aren’t followed, the rendering can suffer and take away from your hard work. It is the material selection, lighting choices, inclusion of supplementary models and camera adjustments that can make or break the realism in a rendering. Challenge yourself to render your own models, customize appearances, find additional models and HDRI environments. Everyone can create an advanced rendering.

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